Depicting the tree of life in museums: guiding principles from psychological research

Novick, Laura R., Pickering, Jane, MacDonald, Teresa, Diamond, Judy, Ainsworth, Shaaron E., Aquino, Adriana E., Catley, Kefyn M., Dodick, Jeff, Evans, Evelyn Margaret, Matuk, Camillia, Sacco, Janis and Scott, Monique (2014) Depicting the tree of life in museums: guiding principles from psychological research. Evolution: Education and Outreach, 7 . 25/1-25/13. ISSN 1936-6426

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The Tree of Life is revolutionizing our understanding of life on Earth, and, accordingly, evolutionary trees are increasingly important parts of exhibits on biodiversity and evolution. The authors argue that in using these trees to effectively communicate evolutionary principles, museums need to take into account research results from cognitive, developmental, and educational psychology while maintaining a focus on visitor engagement and enjoyment. Six guiding principles for depicting evolutionary trees in museum exhibits distilled from this research literature were used to evaluate five current or recent museum trees. One of the trees was then redesigned in light of the research while preserving the exhibit’s original learning goals. By attending both to traditional factors that influence museum exhibit design and to psychological research on how people understand diagrams in general and Tree of Life graphics in particular, museums can play a key role in fostering 21st century scientific literacy.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Evolution, Representation
Schools/Departments: University of Nottingham, UK > Faculty of Social Sciences > School of Education
Identification Number:
Depositing User: Ainsworth, Shaaron
Date Deposited: 16 Mar 2015 11:19
Last Modified: 04 May 2020 16:57

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